It would certainly be understandable if the Thundering Herd came out flat on Saturday afternoon. The Bison certainly proved a point by laying waste to North Dakota and dominating South Dakota State from start to finish in back to back game. The team came out focused and determined. Those kinds of victories require intense preparation and emotional investment. The victory against Northern Iowa was a different kind of win but equally taxing. Heavyweight fights like NDSU's last second thriller over the Panthers are draining.
There are built-in excuses for North Dakota state not to play well. South Dakota just isn't ready to compete with the Bison. Yes, the Coyotes lack of historical success against NDSU and poor performances in Valley play could be just another reason to overlook them and have a "let down" performance but the talent gap is still too great. Joe Glenn's crew has only managed one touchdown in the last 3 games against the Code Green defense, one singular touchdown at the end of the first half in 2014's contest in Vermillion.
It's not like North Dakota State doesn't have things to work on. The Bison struggled running the ball against Northern Iowa, long a staple of the program. The Thundering herd averaged 3.5 yards per carry on 40 (!) attempts. If you take away Carson Wentz's 12 carries for 47 yards you'll see an even more unimpressive 28 carries for 94 yards (3.4 ypc) from the skill position players. Obviously Wentz is a fantastic player and there are worse things than letting him throw the ball, but not being able to run the ball is almost against the religion that is Bison Football.
Defending the run is also something that needs to be worked on, though I'm not sure this is the week to deal with what the actual issue is. Sure, Northern Iowa had 277 yards rushing on Saturday and that's not ideal. At the same time, 216 of those yards came from quarterbacks Sawyer Kollmorgen and Aaron Bailey. Almost all of that yardage came from North Dakota State's inability to contain the read option. 'Yotes QB Ryan Saeger only averages 3.5 yards per rush and South Dakota doesn't run a ton of read option. NDSU has been fine defending the conventional run, as evidenced by the -4 yards allowed to SDSU and the 3.3 yards per carry allowed to Panther skill position players.
When the Bison have the ball:
Expect very real problems for South Dakota. The Coyotes just allowed 34 points to a very middling Youngstown State team in a blowout loss at home. They followed that up by letting Western Illinois hang up 40. South Dakota's yardage-against totals are misleading because of a very weak nonconference schedule. The two Missouri Valley contests that they have played in have not gone well. After playing two very good opponents consecutively, South Dakota may have a talent level closer to Weber State or North Dakota.
It might sound odd, but I don't expect Carson Wentz to go very far over 200 yards passing. The Bison offense usually operates better with a more run-heavy split. Between Wentz, King Frazier and Bruce Anderson I expect the Bison to roll up a big rushing total. The offensive line is still trying to get settled after having Zack Johnson thrown back into the mix and immediately losing center Austin Kuhnert to injury.
It's not that the Bison won't be able to throw the ball, they certainly will, I just expect them to run the ball with ease. I would not expect the Thundering Herd to lean very much on guys like Chase Morlock and Darrius Shepherd that are dinged up, if at all. The last (semi) bold prediction I would like to make is that you'll see Easton Stick in this game, and not because of an injury to the Bismarck Bomber.
When the Coyotes have the ball:
The player that the Bison players and coaching staff seem to have the most respect for is running back Trevor Bouma. He certainly has an impressive stat line, averaging more than 6.6 yards per carry. The problem is that those numbers are also inflated by the weak nonconference schedule that the 'Yotes played. Bouma struggled to move the ball against Youngstown (9 yards) and Western Illinois (12 yards). No program has struggled more to solve the Bison defense over the years than South Dakota. It doesn't look like much is going to change.
It's hard to analyze how the Bison defense has to attack South Dakota, because in conference play they haven't done anything well. South Dakota lines up in traditional personnel to start the game and uses a lot of the same formations as the Bison. They are by no means a "spread" offense.
It would surprise me if NDSU does anything out of the ordinary on defense on Saturday. I see no reason why defensive coordinator Matt Entz wouldn’t' play his base defense and let his front four dominate and his back seven cover. Once the Bison have a healthy lead (and I believe they will) Entz might go to the nickel, bringing Jalen Allison and Robbie Grimsley in for Chris Board and Pierre Gee-Tucker but the basic principles will stay the same. This game may provide valuable snaps for young defenders as well if it gets as out of hand as I envision.
We're getting to the point now where it appears that the loss to Montana might have been exactly what this Bison team needed. No one wants a loss on the schedule but North Dakota State has appeared to be on a mission ever since coming back from the bye week that ensued after the nationally televised game. The Bison are very good, but not so good that they don't have to play well every week to win.
If North Dakota State is as good as I think they are, this game won't be close. Not only is South Dakota struggling, but the Bison have stuff to work on. I expect the effort and the execution to be there because to improve, North Dakota State has to play better against South Dakota than it did against Northern Iowa. Logic would tell you that if that happens it's going to be a Bison blowout.
The Bison will jump on top early throwing the ball, dominate late running it, and the defense scores their first touchdown of the season. Bison 45 USD 10